You can't make everything from scratch

...but you can sure try!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Spice is the variety of life

Or did I get that backward?

Spring seems more or less to have arrived, at least here in New Brunswick and in Ottawa, where I was visiting friends last week and where the nice weather put me in the mood for grilling. Specifically, it put me in the mood for some jerk pork.

In the past, whenever I've made jerk at home, I've used the reliable, blazing hot sauce from President's Choice called "Memories of Montego Bay." I had almost gotten as far as the bottled sauce aisle at the grocery store before I thought to myself, "If I make the jerk sauce from scratch, it'll give me blog fodder!"

A quick search of the Internet later, I had a short list of the key ingredients in jerk paste: scallions, thyme, allspice (known in French as "piment de Jamaïque," or Jamaica pepper) and, of course, scotch bonnet peppers. These particular peppers have a reputation for being, roughly, the Hottest Peppers in Existence, so I was surprised to see that most jerk paste recipes online called for anywhere between 6 and 20 of them. Thinking I knew better, I scaled it back to two peppers for my jerk sauce.

Well, I was rewarded with a superlatively ho-hum jerk sauce. The other flavour elements were all in place (though it was maybe a little heavy on the thyme), but there was zero heat. In the future, I think I'll trust the Internet more. But at least I now have something to tweak!

Oh, and I do recommend serving it with mango salsa and Jamaican rice and peas. You can find lots of recipes for both of these in various corners of the Net.

(Sorry kids, no photo this time.)

Jerk Paste No. 1 (Not Recommended)
1 small onion, chopped
9 scallions, chopped
4 garlic cloves
1.5 tsp ground allspice
1 Tbsp. dried thyme [Ed. note - Too much!]
2 scotch bonnet chilis [Ed. note - Not enough!]
1 tsp. dark soy sauce
1 tsp. brown sugar
salt and pepper

Grind to a paste in a food processor. Marinate meat (pork, chicken, goat, whatever). Grill. Eat.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Hot Cross Buns

Though my religious beliefs these days tend toward the agnostic, it would be disingenuous to say that Christian culture does not continue to have an impact on my life, even if only by determining what holidays I recognize. I don't want to get into an extended meditation on what this means; suffice it to say that, when Easter rolls around, I still enjoy hot cross buns, but don't really focus on their religious significance.

The last time I made hot cross buns at home, I struggled with them quite a bit. Since then, I've gained much more experience with yeast-leavened breads. This time, I had only two problems: I can't do arithmetic (18 is 2 x 3 x 3, not 2 x 2 x 3), and the recipe is so loaded with currants and raisins that kneading the dough inevitably leads to a small shower of dried fruit all over the kitchen.

Hot Cross Buns
Adapted from The Chez Piggy Cookbook

2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) instant yeast
5-6 cups flour
3/4 cup superfine sugar
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
3/8 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. coarse salt (or to taste)
1 cup powdered milk
1 1/2 cups currants
1 1/2 cups sultana raisins
1 cup candied citrus peel
1/2 cup softened butter
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups warm water

2 Tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
Zest of 1 lemon (zest the lemon before you squeeze it for juice)

In a large bowl, stir together the yeast, flour, sugar, spices, salt, milk powder and dried fruits. Add the butter, eggs and water and mix thoroughly. Turn dough onto a well-floured board and knead until smooth. Place dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise until doubled in size, about 2 or 3 hours.

Punch dough down, divide into 18 pieces (divide it in half, then divide each half into 3 and each of those thirds into 3). Shape the pieces into buns, place them on a baking sheet lined with a Silpat or parchment paper, cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise until almost doubled in size, about 1 hour more.

Preheat oven to 375F. Just before putting the buns in the oven, slash their tops. If you want, you can brush the tops with a mixture of 1 beaten egg and 2 tablespoons of milk. Bake the buns for 17-20 minutes, until golden brown.

For the icing, warm the lemon juice in a small saucepan, then add the sugar and mix until dissolved. Stir in the lemon zest. Transfer to a zipper-seal bag, trim the corner, and squeeze crosses (or another, non-religious shape of your choice!) on the buns. It helps if the buns aren't still hot when you do this, but warm is OK.

Happy Easter!